Half of migratory animal species are in decline – many face extinction

The wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans) is classified as vulnerable to extinction

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Hundreds of migratory species – from humpback whales to wandering albatrosses – are under threat due to human activity, according to the first United Nations report on these animals. THE State of migratory species around the world The report, released today, concludes that nearly half of migratory animals on a UN list of vulnerable species are seeing their populations decline. About a quarter of listed species are threatened with extinction.

Billions of animals, belonging to more than 2,000 species, travel great distances each year for various reasons, such as to find food or a place to breed. They include some of the world's most iconic animals, according to Amy Fraenkel to the United Nations Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals. Elephants, whales, dolphins and turtles are all migratory.

However, due to their wandering nature, these animals face a range of perils along their migratory routes, explains Wolfgang Fiedler at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Germany, which was not involved in the report. “A stork may be threatened in central Europe by the risk of electrocution from poorly constructed electricity pylons, in the Mediterranean region by environmental poisoning and habitat loss and in North Africa by illegal hunting.”

In 1983, a United Nations international treaty came into force to protect these animals. Under this agreement, known as the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), 1,189 species have been identified as being of particular interest, in part because they regularly cross national borders on their migrations.

“These are species that really require international cooperation for their survival and conservation,” says Fraenkel.

To understand how these migratory animals are faring today, Fraenkel and his colleagues conducted a comprehensive analysis of conservation data for all species.

Since 1990, 70 species listed on the CMS – including the steppe eagle (Aquila nipalensis) and the Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) – have seen their risk of extinction increase. Significant population declines have affected 44 percent of CMS-listed species, and 22 percent are at risk of complete extinction.

Fish have been particularly affected: 97 percent of CMS-listed fish, including the scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini) and the pelagic drummer (Alopecias pelagic) sharks are either endangered or critically endangered.

The team also identified 399 other migratory animals – including many species of albatross – that are vulnerable to extinction but are currently not listed in the CMS. About half of them are fish species.

Human activity is the main factor behind these alarming trends. Overfishing, pollution and habitat loss from deforestation and urbanization put all species at risk. Climate change is also a problem.

“But there are solutions to these challenges,” says team member Kelly Malsch at the World Conservation Monitoring Center of the United Nations Environment Program.

“Concrete measures include reducing light pollution or changing fishing gear to help reduce bycatch,” she says. “We also need to continue to identify these very important regions that species need to migrate and make them protected areas. »

“Such declines and conservation concerns may not seem unique, given the loss of natural areas and global biodiversity as a whole, but what is unique are the conservation challenges of migratory species, particularly those that migrate long distances or cross continental, national and cultural boundaries. ,” said Tong Mu at Princeton University, who was not involved in the report. “To successfully conserve migratory species, most, if not all, of these threats must be addressed at the right time and in the right sites, during which large-scale coordination and collaboration are usually key. »

The subjects:

  • the threatened species/
  • Animal migration

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